Goma, home to two million people, is the capital of North Kivu, one of the two provinces in Democratic Republic of Congo which have borne the brunt of the Ebola epidemic. The city lies just across the border from the Rwandan city of Gisenyi, which has a population of around 85,000. Many residents cross the frontier for work and other activities.
The border between Goma and Gisenyi is one of the busiest in Africa. An estimated 50,000 people cross the frontier daily. War and misinformation have complicated DRC’s Ebola battle, as special correspondent Monica Villamizar discovered first hand on assignment in early 2020. “The outbreak zone is also a war zone which makes fighting this disease an increasingly difficult battle,” she said.
Villamizar and team discovered that moving around within the province was extremely difficult and dangerous and could only be done with armed escorts. Ebola kills more than half of its victims and the people of the DRC, who have already suffered two decades of war where millions have been made refugees, are being targeted, along with medical teams, by rebels.
The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa was the largest Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. The current outbreak is highly complex and is exacerbated by insecurity and false information which adversely affects the activities of the public health response.
Growing protests are making matters on the ground worse for doctors and vaccination teams who have been trapped under lock down. They cannot go out and monitor Ebola cases, effectively paralyzing the work that could be done to vaccinate more people against the disease.
Villamizar says, “Though the work has not come to a complete standstill, local agents are still doing their best to keep the work going. This is critical work in a time when numbers are starting to rise again.”
As of 4th December 2019, 3,313 cases were reported in DRC with 2,203 deaths and 1,084 survivals. On December 8, 2019, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo jointly launched a vaccination campaign for Ebola prevention with Johnson and Johnson. This is a big event in the fight against Ebola in a joint cross-border effort between the two countries; in what is the first ever cross border vaccination, taking place in Rubavu District at La Grande Barrière border.
This voluntary Ebola vaccination program at the Rwandan border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an urgent effort to prevent the spread of the deadly virus between the neighboring countries.
Everyone at the border crossing has their temperature measured. Fever is one of the first signs of Ebola. Rwanda has taken strict measurements, is educating people on the importance of washing hands and offering support on the vaccination program. Although the outbreak is under control people on both sides of the Rwanda-DRC border are concerned. Fear of catching the disease has been amplified by how the outbreak may affect cross-border business in the long run.
The Food and Drug Administration has formally approved this first vaccine to prevent Ebola. And it comes at a crucial time.
This article was published in partnership with PBS NewsHour.